With the emotional uproar over plans to build an Islamic community center near ground zero raging, a canceled Quran burning in Florida, and protests against mosques across the country, American Muslims are stepping up public-relations efforts to counter what many observers see as a growing anti-Islam fervor.
The campaigns are not coordinated. Rather, the renewed efforts reflect a sense across various Muslim communities that nearly a decade after 9/11, anti-Islam sentiment is a growing threat that must be taken seriously.
“You saw some anti-Muslim views after 9/11, but they were relegated to the fringes of society where they should be,” said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR. “Now anti-Muslim sentiment has really been mainstreamed.”
Among the campaigns:
• On Sept. 1, CAIR launched an advertising campaign featuring Muslims who were among the first responders to the 9/11 attacks. The TV ads are a direct response to the “wave of anti-Muslim hysteria” triggered by Park51, the beleaguered Islamic center and mosque slated for two blocks from ground zero, Mr. Hooper said.
• In California, Michigan, Wisconsin, and elsewhere, members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have spent the last two months walking the streets and going door-to-door with brochures that read: “Muslims for Peace. Love for All – Hatred for None.” In New York, the group took out bus ads with the same message.
• And in Virginia, a group of Muslims came up with the concept for MyFaithMyVoice.com over Ramadan fast-breaking dinners. The website features a 60-second video, shot in a Washington, D.C., mosque Aug. 27, with several dozen American Muslims reading from a script that begins: “In recent weeks, a lot of people have been telling you what to think about Muslims. They say you should fear me, suspect me, hate me.”
Incidents of anti-Muslim attacks
Hooper and others say they are fighting for more than just the image of Islam. They point to a string of recent hate crimes as evidence that vehement opposition to the Manhattan Islamic center by some bloggers, talk show hosts and politicians is fueling discrimination and violence.
Late last month, a Manhattan man was indicted on hate crimes for attempting to stab to death a Muslim cab driver. An Islamic center in California was harassed with signs reading: “Wake up America, the enemy is here” and “No Temple for the god of terrorism at Ground Zero.” In rural Carlton, N.Y., five teenage boys have been charged with crimes for allegedly yelling obscenities, firing a shotgun outside the mosque, and hitting a worshiper with their car. And in a Nashville, Tenn., suburb, arsonists set fire to the construction site of a new mosque that has faced stiff opposition from the local community.
Mr. Hooper said CAIR is especially focused on distributing its TV ads to media outlets in New York, where the divisive debate over the Islamic center continues, and in Florida, where a local church had planned a Quran-burning day on Sept. 11.
In one ad sponsored by the group, a female clinical pharmacist named Rudy talks about helping out with "morgue duty" at ground zero in the chaotic aftermath of the attacks. In another 60-second spot, Hisham, a New York firefighter, tears up as he recalls learning a colleague and friend was on a list of those confirmed dead. At the end of each clip, the speaker identifies as a first responder and a Muslim as the words “9/11 happened to us all” fade in and out against a black background.
Rabiah Ahmad, who helped coordinate the My Faith My Voice website, said she’s hopeful that as American Muslims become more visible as individuals, people’s fears of the faith will begin to ebb. “When people have that one-on-one interaction, they’re less like to discriminate,” she said.